14 February 2012

Freedom of Religion in Hospitals

Catholic Church
There are several Catholic hospitals in the Philippines and they have been critical in delivering services in areas where private interest are not viable. However, in the light of public debates related to the possible passage of the Reproductive Health Bill, there is a question on whether these hospitals should be allowed to restrict doctors from performing common and legal medical practices? Do such restrictions unfairly impinge on the rights of non-Catholic patients and doctors, particularly those in rural or underserved areas where alternative hospitals are not readily available?

Well, I tend to believe that freedom of religion is a cherished ideal in the Philippines, even though at times it has not been provided to those whose beliefs run counter to mainstream or politically correct thinking. Nevertheless, it is a goal we should continually strive for and support as much as possible. With that in mind, hospitals that are owned and run by the Catholic Church, or by any other religious organization, should definitely be able to restrict doctors and other health care professionals in their employment from performing those procedures that go against their stated religious beliefs and doctrine. At the same time, there must also be certain conditions and caveats, because nothing exists in a vacuum.

First, it should be made clear to all potential patients, doctors and staff at such hospitals that certain procedures will not be performed. Second, the hospitals should not receive or be limited in their ability to receive federal funding available to hospitals. Third, religion run hospitals in areas where they are the only such medical facility serving the community must take this fact into consideration and not be allowed to turn away someone who needs immediate life-saving treatment, whatever it is. Non-life-aaving procedures that run counter to their religious beliefs, such as tubal ligation (tube-tying), should not be forced upon such hospitals.

It is true that medical facilities have a responsibility toward the communities in which they exist, but this should not mean they can't be faithful to their belief systems as well. For those who claim to be adamant that the health of women should trump every other consideration, their words are often more rhetoric than substance. If they actually believed it, then they would seek to mandate that all women eat only healthy, whole grain, organic, vegetarian food, that they exercise regularly,do yoga and get sufficient sleep every night, and that they not be allowed to consume alcohol, tobacco products, refined sugars, etc., Who is ready, willing, or even desirous of making such mandates? We should all be concerned about the health of everyone, not just women, but we should not become so narrowly obsessed that we force our views on others in every situation.

Whenever people of different beliefs systems live together in a society, there often needs to be give and take. People should be allowed to follow their own belief systems provided these do not justify or include the harming of others. There are many Catholic hospitals in poor communities where they serve a vital function. In most situations, they should be allowed to do so within the context of their own beliefs and should not be forced to go against them for the convenience of others. Again, if a serious and life threatening situation arises, then such hospitals must be able to bend their doctrines to save that life. In all other situations, they should be granted freedom of religion and appreciated for the service they provide.